LEGISLATURE

Tick, tock: With deadline looming, House gets moving

 

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

After spiraling into near-chaos late Wednesday, the Florida House returned to normal Thursday, with no robotic readings of bills, threats of lawsuits, procedural brinksmanship or petty bickering on the floor.

“Today is a new day,” House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, declared.

The more upbeat tone is largely thanks to the calendar.

Wednesday was the last day House Democrats could stall the legislative process and protest a stalemate over health care reform by requiring all bills be read in full.

On Thursday, lawmakers passed a slew of bills, including a measure that would make it easier to evict tenants. House members also began debating the $74.5 billion budget, with a final vote expected Friday.

Representatives got an unexpected visit from Gov. Rick Scott, who briefly appeared on the floor to show gratitude for the approval of a sales tax break for manufacturing equipment.

Democrats, however, wanted to talk about health care.

Scott agrees with Democrats on the need to expand Medicaid in Florida, including accepting $51 billion in federal money. House Democrats have been wearing lapel stickers that say “Health Care for Florida Families.”

Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, offered Scott an extra sticker to wear — even briefly — but the governor demurred.

“I thought it would be very symbolic, and show great solidarity with Floridians that need health care,” Dudley said. “We wanted to remind him of health care and keep him on the thing that he says that he wants that we’d like to see him doing more to support.”

Scott dodged questions on whether he would call lawmakers back for a special session on health care if, as expected, they fail to reach a deal this week.

“As you know, there’s still time left in session ... We’ll see what happens,” Scott said. “As you know, I’ve said ‘yes’ to making sure we take care of the uninsured and the Legislature said ‘no.’”

The landlord bill, HB 77, passed the House 92-25 and now heads to Scott’s desk. The proposal was pushed by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who is an investment property manager. Court records show Stargel has been forced to evict people who rent property she owns.

As part of the bill, a tenant could pay partial rent and still be evicted within days if they fail to turn over the rest of the money. The measure would also allow a landlord to evict a tenant if a person breaks rules twice in one year. Those rules can include parking in the wrong spot or having an unauthorized pet.

Another bill passed by the House on Thursday, HB 691, would make it illegal to possess other people’s personal information such as Social Security numbers and credit cards. The measure, which passed unanimously, has already passed the Senate. It now heads to the governor’s desk.

At least one bill looks to have died as a result of the partisan tensions earlier in the week, the Times-Union reported. Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, said his proposed rewrite of state limited liability company laws was not heard Wednesday and most likely will not pass this year.

Why?

The bill, HB 1079, was tied up when Democrats forced that every bill be read in full. While House Republicans used an auto-reader nicknamed “Mary” to speed up the process, McBurney’s bill was 233 pages long, and it took Mary 45 seconds to read a single page.

“You do the math,” McBurney told the Times-Union.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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